The Germans have never had a particularly good press in Britain. They are traditionally presented as the ravaging Hun after we fought two world wars against them in the last century.They can be stereotyped as brutal, beer swilling technocrats with no sense of humour and always obeying orders.
And no one has forgotten the 1966 World Cup – when England beat Germany 4-2 – though many might be happy to forget the 2010 World Cup when Germany beat England 4-1.
Yet there is another side to all this. The German contribution to Great Britain – what contribution you might ask?
There is an eye-opening exhibition organised by the Migration Museum Project at the German Historical Institute in Bloomsbury Square, London, that tells a different story. You have probably not heard of either, so if you are a passionate supporter of UKIP look away now because this is no story of EU benefit scroungers rushing to Britain to take our jobs and squander taxpayers’ money.
Rather it is a tale of how German immigrants to Britain have created jobs,iconic buildings, boosted trade between the two countries and made us laugh and cry and fought for women’s rights. I have to declare an interest as you would guess from my name – Hencke – I am from part German descent and my great grandfather came to Britain around 1863 and I am afraid, UKIP supporters,subsequent generations have stayed here ever since.
Indeed this exhibition reveals that in Britain’s first census in 1861 German immigrants were the largest group of immigrants , amounting to 28,644 people, just 0.09 per cent of the population. By 2011 there were 273,654 German born Brits, amounting to 0.43 per cent of the population.
The most fascinating part of the exhibition is the less familiar contributions from German immigrants. Two German chemists built London’s first gas works, the iconic and now listed De la Warr Pavilion in Bexhill on Sea was designed by a German architect, and one of the leading suffragettes, Kitty Marion (Katerina Shafer) was a German immigrant.
And there are many German academics, traders dating back to the Hanseatic League in 1300, and the big wave of Jewish immigration in the 1930s after the persecution by the Nazis.
Less well-known is that there is also a German speaking Somali and Vietnamese population in the UK, people who came as asylum seekers to Germany and have moved to Britain.
And yes there are stand up German comedians in Britain – you can watch one, Henning Wehn, on a video – and he is funny!
All this is a real antidote to the anti-immigration frenzy sweeping the country, showing the benefits to Britain rather than harping on the horrors of immigration ruining our society.
The exhibition is on in London until October 24, times are on the German Historical Institute website (link above) and admission is free. The exhibition will move to Manchester and Belfast later.